It is claimed, probably correctly, that the Christian Bible remains the most popular book in the world, the most purchased, the most read, in its manifold versions and interpretations. That being the case, the book itself deserves to be read, and its contents analyzed and understood. Any book whose contents have the power to control so much of man’s thinking and subsequent acts should not be simply relegated to the dustbin of irrelevant myth. Is it a tool… or a weapon of mass distraction leading to mass destruction?
In the movie, “Contact” (based on the book of same name by Carl Sagan) it is claimed that over 90% of the planet’s population “believes in God” in some way or other. That argument was used to prevent atheist Ellie Arroway from participating in the first attempted flight in the alien-designed machine.
Most people who believe in God “just do it” and don’t think about it. In fact thinking about it is strongly discouraged because it inevitably leads to doubt. In the Catholic Church, doubt is one of the deadly sins! I wrote the following from my own path of simple unquestioning faith in the Christian deity, to doubt, and to the eventual freedom among the wide-open vistas of scepticism.
I never argue the existence of God: He exists in the minds of people, therefore He exists. Man creates his gods and installs them on thrones from which they rule him with an iron fist. History provides incontrovertible evidence of that fact. What I do discuss; what I can discuss; is the nature of God, and the Bible is the one book that makes the claim to reveal that nature to mankind, so the Bible needs to be perused with a mental find-tooth comb. Have a look at this bit of discussion in the nature of man’s number one divinity.
Genesis – a Different Perspective
[a short story by Sha’Tara]
The old man inclined his hoary head to Reuben as they sat on the old and cold cement bench near the fountain. It was quiet enough, this far from the main streets, and the fountain had ceased functioning years ago. It’s basin was filling with moldy detritus partially covered with falling leaves. A robin, his head cocked much like the old man, was worm-listening and farther off under a spreading ivy clinging to a wild thorn, a towhee hopped and scratched as if his very life depended on the action. Well, maybe it did.
Reuben had helped the old man up after he’d fallen while trying to step over a shifted paving stone. Then he’d taken him to an outdoor café and bought him a bagel and coffee. They had talked. Reuben, in his third year of classic Bible studies and still undecided about pursuing a career as a religious, had innocently answered the old man’s questions.
“So, three years of religious studies and no definite idea what you want to do with that knowledge? Ah the youth of today, to have such latitude. Back when, you had to know what you were going to do by the time you were sixteen at the very least. Then you pursued that one goal, and found your own means of support if you wanted to continue on to university. Different times…” and the old man sighed. “Thank you for the bagel and the coffee. I haven’t had such a treat in a long time. Retirement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, my friend. May I call you my friend without offending?”
“Certainly sir. I’d like to be considered a friend. What should I call you then?”
“Friend is good. Very good. But I should be going. I’m sure you have better things to do than babysitting an old man on a late Friday afternoon, yes?”
“Actually, I am enjoying this. It’s different. I find my mind going off in an uncharted path. I am even thinking, if you were up to it, of asking you some life questions. All those years, all those experiences. Perhaps you know things I could benefit from, especially if I do enter some kind of ministry. How can someone as young as I assume he could counsel people with real problems?”
So they began to talk and after a while the old man needed to move, so they walked slowly until they reached the quiet of the old park with the dead fountain. The old man needed to sit again, so they sat on the dirty old cement bench and Reuben, face bent to look at his feet stepping on tufts of unkept grass, wondered what he was doing, why he was encouraging this old man. What’s with me? he thought.
The old man suddenly put his hand on Reuben’s arm. “So you studied the Bible all these years, yes?”
“Yes, the Bible, religious history, particularly Christian; and realms of interpretations, theological arguments, theories, and dogma. But the more I read, the more I study, the more I learn, the more uncomfortable I become; the more uncertain. I feel that my zeal has been scattered to the winds, if you know what I mean. It’s not as clear now. God used to “talk” to me in a sense, you know? But not for a long time now. Nothing. My counsellor calls it the dark night of the soul but with all due respect, I’m not so sure. I don’t think it would be productive for God to keep those who want to serve him, in mind darkness, in confusion and doubt, not this long. There should have been a resolve. Well, there you have it, friend: no resolve.”
“I’d like to tell you something,” said the old man with a twinkle, “and I guarantee that it’s something you have not come across in any of your books, except perhaps your Bible, but then, you were raised in such careful exegesis that even though it was right under your nose all those years, you never saw it. Of course you’re not meant to see it. This Biblical “slip” if you will, would devastate much of the Earth’s religions, even non-Christian ones.”
A part of Reuben wanted to leave at that moment. In his current state of doubt, any story casting further doubts on what he so fervently wanted to believe, was not what he wanted. In fact, he had hoped that in some mysterious way, this old man was an angel sent from God to re-affirm his flagging faith. He remained quiet while the old man turned to the sky and a soft smile played over the old wrinkled face. Now Reuben began to think that maybe the old man was Satan, or a demon, having come into his life at a weak moment intent on tormenting him.
“I believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord and saviour,” he said, turning to the old man, “and nothing you say can change that.”
“Oh, I already knew that, and my intent is not to change what you believe. But perhaps what I have to say to you can help you understand why you believe what you believe and why you have doubts. After all, in the realm of faith all things are possible, since it is not dependent on objective proof. Whatever evidence I give you, you can still go on believing, even if it no longer makes any sense. Faith does not have to make sense, but do realize that is why it so often becomes the hideout or stronghold of the fanatic.”
“Are you saying that by believing as I do, I’m a fanatic?”
“Oh no, not at all. I’m just showing you the possibility, a door that remains always open to any individual who believes by faith. Just a bit of caution, if you will. You see Reuben, faith people always believe they are right and anyone else who believes differently has to be wrong; and they fear logic that can demonstrate their faith to be in error. That’s what makes a fanatic.”
“By that criteria, I’m a fanatic then…”
“You said it and I have to agree. I just wanted you to see it, and give you a chance to end this discussion. In your mind at the moment, your faith is the truth and any other truth that contradicts that must be a lie. I didn’t want you to think I would be expounding a lie to you by “interpreting” some key passages of your Bible in a way quite opposite to what you have been taught.”
Silence fell between the two men. The old man looked at the tree tops around the park as they cast their elongated shadows in the late afternoon. Reuben’s mind was in a complete turmoil. He desperately wanted two opposite things. One: run away from this stranger, two: hear his story. He finally opted to hear the old man’s interpretation.
“I’m a bit nervous about listening, but I think my faith needs testing. If I can’t listen to you, what’s it good for?”
“I thought that’s what you would decide. So let me go into my story then. I assume you are very familiar with the book of Genesis, particularly the first couple of chapters?”
“Well, of course.”
“What do you make of it?”
“I don’t understand the question. What do I make of what?”
“The story. What do you think of the story?”
“Oh, I don’t know that it matters much, whether it’s literal or allegorical. But I do believe that man is created, and that man sinned and was punished for that by being cast out of the presence of God. I also believe that God promised man that he would be sent a redeemer in time; one who would conquer the Evil One and set man free.”
“Yes, so you accept the classic interpretation then?”
“Yes I do. It makes sense in relation to the rest of the Bible, especially to the conclusion in the New Testament.
“Yes, of course it makes sense. It has too. One part cannot contradict another, correct?”
“But Reuben, did you ever notice the incredible discrepancy in the first two chapters of the Bible? In the creation story?”
“Chapter one, you have the “six days” of creation by God. Everything is done in an orderly fashion, and all is given a point. It’s simple and easy to follow. Finally man and woman are created and sent into the earth to be fruitful, multiply and rule over it. And then this Creator is satisfied with his work and he takes a much deserved rest from a perfect work that, without interference, would not need any further input. So far, so good, yes?”
“To that point yes. But Satan was lurking there waiting his chance to disrupt, perhaps destroy, this beautiful creation.”
“Ah yes, Satan. But aren’t we jumping the gun here? What happens after God decides to rest from his creating? Let’s look carefully at what comes next.
“Genesis, chapter two, verse 4 appears to be a re-telling of the events in chapter 1, but if you read even casually, you are struck by the fact that the re-telling has nothing to do with the original story. This is where it gets really interesting, and crucial, as far as understanding what happened to man, to the earth, and remains to curse the race and its planet to this day. Notice that “God” (the Creator of Genesis one) has now been morphed into a different divinity called “the LORD God” by the writer. Notice that the chronology of creation here is completely skewed. The creation of the “heavens and earth” are glossed over and the story teller focuses on the conditions on the earth where nothing was growing yet. He goes on to say that God created man to “work the ground” when there were as yet no plants on it. Yet immediately we are told that the LORD God “had planted a garden in the east, in Eden.” There he placed the man, and only now does he make trees come out of the ground, and etc. Now Reuben, if any writer today botched the beginning of a story as bad as this, his only chance to be published would be by vanity press! You’ll remember that the rest of that chapter is a mapping lesson describing the location of Eden, man being told to take care of the garden, being told what he could and could not eat, and the dire consequences of disobedience, man naming the creatures and looking for a mate among the animals (an interesting point in itself); God making a female companion for him and all’s well that ends well until Genesis chapter 3.
“Enter the crafty serpent. He interestingly does not tempt Adam, but Eve. You will remember that the command not to eat of the fruit of the trees was given to Adam before Eve was created. So we must assume that Adam had passed on the warning to Eve and she would have some idea that picking fruit of knowledge, or of life, was a bad thing. We must also assume that innocent Eve would not have a clue as to what a bad thing was as opposed to a good thing. Remember, they had no concept of right and wrong since officially, at that point, they had no need of a conscience. But Eve did evil anyway, and was held accountable, to be punished by additional pain, suffering and death, even though she would have no concept of what “dying” would mean. I assume you pondered these points and satisfied yourself that there was no problem with the account?”
“It never seemed that important to me. What is important is that man became a sinner and suffered the consequences of his disobedience to God.”
“Ah, but it wasn’t “man” technically, who disobeyed now, was it? Eve did it first, Eve whom God didn’t warn about disobedience, who only had Adam’s word for it. Could we assume that Eve might have thought Adam was putting her on, taking advantage of her ignorance, since he was the one who spoke to God, not her? Could we assume that she wanted to test Adam’s warning? Remember, this young woman had never seen “evil” – had no understanding of sin and consequences; had never been sick or physically inconvenienced; would not know what dying meant. Why would eating from one tree be different than eating from another? How could she really know until she tried it? Isn’t that the point – to experience life rather than always taking someone else’s advice?
“Look at us today: we do horrible things, knowing both, the curse and results. We kill, knowing that murder is wrong and we inflict great mental and physical pain on each other knowing how it feels. Yet we do it. So why this great need to blame innocent Eve for doing something that could not mean anything serious to her?”
“That’s why I think the story is allegorical. It is not a historical fact, just a kind of deus ex machina to explain why things are the way they are today.”
“Well now, you’re thinking, you’re thinking. But before we get carried away with the allegory if such it is, let’s backtrack a bit. Why do you suppose the writer changed from “God” as a generic creator, to a specific “LORD God” in the second account?”
“Usage? Different writer, different approach?”
“That different? The two accounts have barely anything in common, Reuben, and you should see that now. What if I told you that “God” in chapter one is indeed the original creator, and that the LORD God in chapter two verse 4 and following, is a different entity? It is assumed that the LORD God of Genesis is the subsequent Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews who then became the God of the Jews, the Christians and the Muslims. Is that so?”
“Yes, of course.”
“OK, let me plunge right in: I did much research and deep thinking about this Biblical problem; the credibility of the Edenic LORD God as original creator. It doesn’t add up. The original creation happened long, long, before the LORD God shows up; long before there is any Eden, or any mapping of earth going on, any reason to describe any particular place on earth as special. The original creation was self-sustaining, innocent and totally violence-free. Everything roamed everywhere freely and there was no enmity between individuals or species. Don’t you get that feeling when you read Genesis one? Isn’t it true that the original Creator gave plants for food to all the creatures that moved on the ground, in the seas, in the air? Isn’t it important to note that there was no bloodshed in the original creation? Why is that? Isn’t it because shedding blood is inherently evil because it engenders fear, then causes pain and death? Isn’t it because once such a pattern establishes itself on a world, that world is ultimately doomed?
“What other differences can you see here? Look at the creation of man and woman: together and equal, and sent freely into the world to live without fear, without qualms. The only commands, and believe me they were not onerous, was to be fruitful and multiply. Yes, likely there would be natural death, though that is still a moot point with me, but such a passing would not entail fear because there would be no pain and it would be part of the natural cycle to be experienced. Death would not have been put forward as a punishment. See? Only a truly sociopathic creature would use death as a threat and punishment for any so-called disobedience.
“So, who is the LORD God? That’s very easy to see now. It’s the same entity as the fake one it told man was called Satan disguised as a serpent. But it was the LORD God, or some associate, who entered into that disguise and it was meant to create fear in the newly “created” sentient beings. It was that LORD God entity who brought evil: violence, bloodshed and fear into this world where none of those things had existed beforehand – and mark this: it needed an intelligent, sentient, self-aware being, someone who could legally be blamed for doing evil, for sinning.
“That entity did not create man. Man, wild man, already existed and populated much of the planet in small, self-sufficient groups in peaceful coexistence with others. What the LORD God did was clone new creatures, it’s own creatures, from existing wild man DNA and its own, to make them like him and bind them to himself. He established rules and regulations, imposed Draconian laws, whereby he hoped to control his creatures and ensure they would serve him forever, whatever happened. And he invented all the tales, including the promise of a redeemer in some never-never future (one which is still being waited for, either as a first or second coming by the way) so that man would toil, fight and die and no matter which side he took, he would always be on the side of that same LORD God. There would be no escape in the two-party system of God and Satan.
“You know Reuben, the writer George Orwell may have figured out the eventual outcome of a world violently divided between dual and dueling interchangeable forces of good and evil, but mark my words, it was the LORD God of Genesis who invented the concept and tested it on his human clones.”
By then the sun had set and Reuben sat with his eyes closed watching the images flowing through his mind. It was a lot to digest, certainly, but there was sense to it all. And surprisingly, he felt better than he had in months. Something, some sort of weight, had been lifted by this alternative viewpoint. There was that wonderful “What if”” now tantalizing him, something new and tangible to work with, something that didn’t have the dry and predictable taste of his Biblical studies. He even smiled as he turned to this new friend.
“I think it’s time we found a place to eat. I need a beer. Do you drink beer, Friend?”
“Well, I used to long ago. But I haven’t had the pleasure in some time. I can’t afford to eat out, so I’m afraid I’ll have to decline and move along home.”
“Ah, you assume I’m a poor university student who has barely the means to buy his books and find lodging in a garret, is that it?” he said laughing.
“Something like that. No, all joking aside, it’s time for me to go. I gave you something fresh to ponder. Now you can unravel the tale from your own perspective and not from a thousand would-be hair-splitting “interpreters” of the Bible. Enjoy yourself, Reuben.”
Reuben thought the voice sounded younger. He looked at his friend and saw that he indeed looked much younger, and there was more of a twinkle in a face which, though darkened by the fading light, he saw didn’t show any wrinkles. When his friend stood up, he was no longer tottering, but standing tall, straight, a powerful body a bit taller than himself. He thought he detected a light coming from the man beside him as his friend took his hand in his and pressed firmly.
“You’ll be alright Reuben. You won’t sell yourself short and you will do much good on this world. I bless you. The man pulled back, and disappeared from view as he seemed to lift from the ground. Reuben stood alone and a bit shocked for a moment, but no longer doubting. This, he thought, was good. And he felt very hungry and thirsty for that beer.